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Development of critical thinking and creativity: practical guidelines for the postsecondary classroom.


Critical thinking and creativity are foundational for finding structured technical solutions to real-world problems for creating new and innovative solutions to technical issues. These skills can and should be developed within the educational environment. This article discusses the benefits of these skills within technical education and demonstrates how personality theory relates to critical thinking and creativity. This article suggests an alignment between preferences and strengths within critical and creative thinking abilities, and also includes information to assist instructors in identifying their students' intrinsic preferences. Lastly, specific guidelines for developing students' critical and creative thinking skills based on their personality types are discussed.

Critical Thinking and Creativity within Technical Education

Socrates once said, "To find yourself, think for yourself" (as cited in Cashman, 2008). From the period of Socrates to the present day, scholars have realized that the abilities to reason and to think critically are important and necessary outcomes of education (Alazzi, 2008). Thinking is made up of three dimensions: reflective, creative, and critical (Ruggiero, 2003).

Reflective thinking perceives challenges, opportunities, and experiences. Creativity involves forming ideas to solve problems and resolve issues through techniques such as brainstorming, analogy, and visualization (Ruggiero, 2003). Creativity involves seeking new, unique, and original ways to resolve problems; creativity accentuates the originality and uniqueness of ideas (Ediger, 2009). Critical thinking is a process that involves evaluating ideas and identifying the best ones and includes developing the ability to separate fact from opinion, recognizing reasoning errors, analyzing arguments, and making ethical judgments (Ediger, 2009; Ennis, 1987; Ruggiero, 2003).

Students can develop critical thinking skills such as conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating through observation, experience, reflection, and communication in classes (Rugutt & Chemosit, 2009). Problem solving requires an educational environment in which students can ask questions and identify problems that require in-depth thinking while formulating answers (Ediger, 2009). Technical educators should recognize that critical and creative thinking are essential to decision making, problem solving, and effective practice (Gibbons & Gray, 2004). Learning to think critically and creatively alters the outcome of technical education from that of simply gaining knowledge to gaining the abilities to analytically and innovatively explore the knowledge received (Gibbons & Gray, 2004). By systematically employing critical and creative thinking skills to real life situations, technical education students can learn to view issues and solutions in a broader context of possibilities rather than as absolutes (Gibbons & Gray, 2004).

Jung's Personality Theory and MBTI[R] Types

Carl Jung defined personality types in terms of individual's intrinsic preferences (Jung & Hull, 1991). The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI[R] test, based on Jung's theory, categorizes individuals as one of 16 types identified by four-letter designators. These types include ISTJ, ISFJ, INFJ, INTJ, ISTP, ISFP, INFP, INTP, ESTP, ESFP, ENFP, ENTP, ESTJ, ESFJ, ENFJ, or ENTJ.

The first letter of the four-letter MBTI[R] designator indicates personality in terms of interaction with others, as either introversion (I) or extraversion (E). The second letter denotes preferred functions for perceiving information, as either sensing (S) or intuition (N). The third letter specifies the two functions for deciding, based on either thinking (T) or feeling (F). The fourth letter indicates the preferred method of structure, as either judging (J), or perceiving (P). A preference for judging (J) indicates a tendency toward quick decisions, and a preference for perceiving (P) indicates openness to new information and alternatives before making a decision (Myers, McCaulley, Quenk, & Hammer, 1998).

Jung's theory posits that individuals' intrinsic personality includes a preferred method for understanding and perceiving information (Jung & Hull, 1991) , and the MBTI[R] provides a method for recognizing those preferences (Myers et al., 1998). The third letter of the MBTI[R] designator signifies preferred methods for understanding and perceiving information as either sensing (S) or intuition (N). Although everyone is capable of using either function to perceive (Barbato & Subhash, 1989), recognizing individuals' perception preferences makes it possible to develop critical thinking and creativity skills even further. Technical educators can help students identify their personal preferences, leverage their existing strengths, and improve their skills to think critically and creatively (Huitt, 1992) .

Comparison of the Preferences for Perceiving Information

Students who prefer to use sensing (S) and those who prefer to rely on intuition (N) differ in their methods for acquiring knowledge, processing data, and problem solving. Each method is characterized by its individual strengths (de Charon, 2003). Sensing

The following characteristics and strengths have been associated with the sensing (S) preference (Barbato & Subhash, 1989; de Charon, 2003; Huitt, 1992):

* Tend to remain grounded in realistic and achievable ideals.

* Focus on the here and now, maintain structure and clarity.

* Take in information through their eyes, ears, and other senses.

* Prefer using facts and details from the past and present, and personal experiences.

* Observe their environment and recognize the practical realities of a situation.

* Observe and remember sequentially, and desire step-by-step information.

* Want factual and concrete information.

* Exhibit attention to detail and tend to consider contingencies.

* Seek practical solutions with specific steps.


The following characteristics and strengths have been associated with the intuition (N) preference (Barbato & Subhash, 1989; de Charon, 2003; Huitt, 1992):

* Grasp patterns, and see new possibilities and different ways of doing things.

* Observe interrelationships within internal and external environments.

* Tend to synthesize data.

* Like to challenge assumptions.

* Tend to ignore the "rules" and details of projects.

* Use imagination and insight.

* Visualize the "big picture."

* Focus on the relationships and connections among facts.

* Develop complex solutions.

Contrast between characteristics associated with sensing and intuition

Synthesizing the characteristics associated with sensing reveals that students who prefer to perceive information using sensing (S) tend to live in the present and relate best to real life examples. These students thrive in a structured environment with detailed information, step-by-step instructions, and clear objectives. Sensors prefer experiential learning; they enjoy the challenges of data analysis and the discovery of clear solutions.

In contrast, characteristics associated with intuition reveal that students who prefer to perceive information using intuition (N) would rather receive information as metaphors. These students thrive in an environment without detailed information or structure. Intuitive learners prefer broad concepts, tend to think "outside of the box." and enjoy the opportunity to envision new possibilities.

Perceiving Style Preferences and Creative and Critical Thinking

Barbato and Subhash (1989) contended that individuals who prefer to perceive using sensing (S) are more apt to concentrate on facts and details, use logical, structured procedures for making decisions, and focus on short-term, tangible goals. However, sensors are often unwilling to accept new ideas and may ignore the long-term vision. While sensors have a natural strength for thinking critically, they tend to lack skills associated with creativity (Barbato & Subhash, 1989).

On the other hand, Barbato and Subhash (1989) asserted that intuitive (N) individuals are often driven by large-scale visions. Intuitive individuals are usually skilled at abstract thinking, are comfortable in unstructured situations, and can synthesize information innovatively. While intuitive students have a natural strength for creativity, they tend to lack a preference for structure and may ignore facts and details required for thinking critically (Barbato & Subhash, 1989).

Based on personality theory, all individuals are intrinsically predisposed to one style of perceiving information, either sensing (S) or intuition (N) (Jung & Hull, 1991). Therefore, technical instructors should recognize that students will typically have intrinsic strength in either critical thinking or creativity, but not both. Many authors have asserted the benefits of critical thinking and creativity in education. Development of both critical thinking and creativity attributes is especially important within technical education since the ability to think both critically and creatively may enhance students' ability to recognize and create optimal solutions to technical issues.

Recommended Actions for Technical Instructors

Both sensing (S) and intuition (N) are necessary for technical educators to teach effectively and for students to learn successfully. Sensing is required to identify and implement practical and realistic solutions, and intuition is needed to identify and produce creative solutions (de Charon, 2003). Techniques for improving critical thinking and creativity skills begin with identifying students' intrinsic strengths in order to recognize developmental needs (de Charon, 2003).

1. Instructors should actively engage students in the course content and ask questions to probe students' preferences for perceiving data and for developing solutions (Lederer, 2007). The techniques of telling, listening, asking, and being aware can be used to identify students' preferences (Daniels & Brag, 2004). Technical instructors should identify students that perceive data based on characteristics associated with sensing (S), and those who perceive data based on characteristics associated with intuition (N).

2. Once students' areas of strength have been identified, instructors should focus on developing the non-preferred style. Instructors should divide students into two groups based on their current style of perceiving data, and design individualized sessions to engage the groups in exercises that focus on developing the non-preferred style (de Charon, 2003).

3. A curriculum specifically designed for sensors (S) should focus on helping them learn to develop more creative solutions, and a curriculum specifically designed for intuitors (N) should focus on helping them learn to improve and rely on their critical thinking skills during problem solving.

4. A curriculum to help sensing (S) students improve their creativity skills should emphasize an environment that enables students to raise questions and deliberate in-depth thinking as opposed to relying only on factual responses (Ediger, 2009). Problems should be relevant and challenging with active student involvement. Open ended questions should be included to encourage learner curiosity and creativity (Ediger). Additionally, brainstorming sessions should be used to help students consider visionary goals and creative ideas without judgment. Practicing the intuitive preferences of visualization and abstract thinking can help students to further develop their creativity and develop the ability to innovate (de Charon, 2003).

5. A curriculum to help intuitive (N) students improve their critical thinking skills requires that students focus on more structured solutions. A productive exercise for helping intuitive students develop sensing capabilities is to have students visualize a broad, creative, long-term solution and dissect it into tangible, practical, and measurable steps. This activity enables students to understand and appreciate the actual requirements necessary to accomplish the goal. Recognizing the structure and details required to accomplish potential solutions will help intuitors evaluate options based on facts and help them to remain grounded and critical in their thinking processes (de Charon, 2003).


Within the individual preferences for perceiving information, sensors (S) tend to be naturally critical in their thinking processes and intuitors (N) tend to be more creative. Technical education should develop habits of thought that require both critical thinking and creativity in the framework of realistic situations and experience. Technical education students require practice to evaluate data and solve technical problems both critically and creatively. Creating lesson plans that focus on developing students' specific needs can provide inspiration, generate challenges, offer personal encouragement, and empower development of the ability to think critically and creatively.

Instructors should help their students foster and enhance the attribute that is not intrinsic. The development of lesson plans incorporating critical thinking and creativity development should be integrated into the curriculum. Instructors should provide inspiration, generate challenges, and offer personal encouragement to empower students to develop the ability to critically think with creativity. The ability to think both critically and creatively may enhance students' technical capabilities, professional aptitude, and personal confidence.


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Dr. Linda deCharon is Associate Faculty, School of Advanced Studies, University of Phoenix, Phoenix, Ariz.

Dianna Nicholls is Adjunct Instructor, Business, St. Clair County Community College, Port Huron, Mich.

Dr. Ron Hutkin is Faculty, Doctoral Research, School of Advanced Studies, University of Phoenix, Phoenix, Ariz.
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Author:Nicholls, Dianna; De Charon, Linda; Hutkin, Ron
Publication:ATEA Journal
Date:Sep 22, 2010
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